IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - July 2019 - 11

The Societal Need for Infrastructure Services
Infrastructure systems, including energy, transport, digital
communications, solid waste, and water (incorporating
water supply, wastewater treatment, drainage, and flood
protection), provide the backbone for modern society.
These are complex sociotechnical systems as they require
the coordination of many technological artifacts to function, along with the human systems that plan, deliver, operate, and maintain these elements. Some definitions of
infrastructure include social infrastructure, i.e., schools,
hospitals, prisons, banks, and the like.
In this article, I restrict myself to the categories of networked economic infrastructure just mentioned. These
infrastructure classes have traditionally been dealt with in
separate silos by government and industry. Governments
have had separate ministries of energy, transport, and so on,
and industries and their consultants and regulators are organized along sectoral lines. It is only relatively recently that
infrastructure has begun to be considered as an overarching
category by governments and the finance sector. In government, this movement has been reflected in the creation of
specialist infrastructure units, including Infrastructure Australia, New Zealand's National Infrastructure Unit, and the
National Infrastructure Commission in the United Kingdom.
There are several drivers of recent political attention to
infrastructure systems of systems. I will review some of the
main developments.
National Security and Natural Catastrophes
The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 spurred a huge
amount of new activity relating to national security,
including the nexus with infrastructure systems [1]. Coming at roughly the same time as developments in network
science [2], there has been a rapid flourishing of understanding of the behavior and, notably, the failure of infrastructure systems. The arrival of extremely damaging
hurricanes, especially Katrina in New Orleans and Sandy
in New York and neighboring states, has also highlighted
infrastructure vulnerability. The impact of these events
and of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (which followed an earthquake and tsunamis) has reverberated
around the world, leading to a reconsideration of infrastructure resilience in countries far from where the calamities occurred. Weather-related catastrophes like those
inflicted by Katrina and Sandy also raised awareness of
the potential impact of climate change, including rising
sea levels [3] and the possibility of greater hurricane frequency and severity [4]. Partly as a consequence of these
disasters, London reviewed the standard of its protection
against storm surge flooding [5], and The Netherlands
comprehensively examined its flood risk management [6]
to put in place plans to adapt to possible future changes.
Calamities, however, do not need to be on the catastrophic scale of 9/11, Katrina, or Sandy to demonstrate the
fragility of infrastructure networks and the often-unforeseen consequences of interdependence. A series of floods in

the United Kingdom since 2007 [7] has illustrated how single points of failure (like the electricity substation in Lancaster that flooded in 2015 [8]) can result in sometimes
life-threatening disruption for tens of thousands of utility
customers. A bridge failure in the coastal town of Whitehaven in northern England deprived the town's residents of
electricity, gas, and telephony because the bridge carried
wires and pipes that supplied those services. A flood in York
disrupted the operation of police and hospitals as far away
as Newcastle because the waters knocked out the telecommunications system [9]. Thanks to increasing understanding of the processes involved in the interreliance among
infrastructure networks (see the subsequent discussion),
researchers have a growing capability to simulate failure,
analyze risk, and prioritize interventions to build resilience.
Deterioration
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. infrastructure a D+ grade on its 2017 report card. The study
asserted that there is a backlog of US$2 trillion of upkeep
and renewal through 2025. This growing maintenance
commitment is not surprising, given that so much U.S.
infrastructure was built in the pre- and post-World War II
periods and is now reaching the end of its life. Meanwhile, the costs of weaving infrastructure through dense
urban settings have increased, while infrastructure
spending as a percentage of gross domestic product
(GDP) has declined.
In Britain, where much infrastructure was built during
the Industrial Revolution, the challenges are even greater.
London's main sewer system was finished in the 1850s
and 1860s. Most of Britain's railway embankments and
cuttings were created before the advent of modern engineering standards of design and construction. Information on these structures and on masonry arch bridges is
scarce and usually requires invasive investigations to
acquire. Remediating the whole stock of assets will be
enormously costly.
Fiscal Stimulus
The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 threw economies
into recession. Governments and central banks instituted
many policies to mitigate the impact. Infrastructure
investment is a venerable form of fiscal stimulus, an oftcited example being the program of public works in U.S.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. After the
financial crisis, President Barack Obama announced
US$105 billion of infrastructure investment. Infrastructure
also featured prominently in British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's 2009 Building Britain's Future policy. Actually, while government expenditure can, to some extent, be
rapidly absorbed in programs to deal with maintenance
backlogs, large new infrastructure has such a long lead
time that it is not very effective as a fiscal stimulus. Accelerating programs that are already on the drawing board
can add unacceptably to the costs.
Ju ly 2019

IEEE SYSTEMS, MAN, & CYBERNETICS MAGAZINE

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IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - July 2019

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